1. An implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus
influences the response to another stimulus. (Scientific)

2. An act of preparation, or designing of certain preset conditions
in order to influence a desired response or outcome. (Own interpretation)


Theoretical Research

Priming is a psychological and cognitive process.

The process can be broken down into 3 key terms:
1. Schema
2. Accessibility
3. Priming Effect

A mental framework or concept used to organize and understand the world. For example, animals are categorized into sub-groups like birds, mammals, etc. Each category is an example of a schema.
Diagram 1.1 below imagines schemata (plural) to be like paths that lead to an overarching theme.

Diagram 1.1

Accessibility refers to the ease in which a schema is brought to mind and used to make judgments. This usually occurs below the conscious level. Diagram 1.2 below illustrates that the schema that is highly accessible will be more likely to be used by the user as compared to one that is not.

Diagram 1.2
Diagram 1.2

Priming Effect
When an experience or exposure to a stimulus puts a particular schema at the forefront of our mind, it in turn influences our judgments and decisions and is called the priming effect. In short, it refers to an increased sensitivity and accessibility to a particular schema.


Key Priming Experiments

As part of our research, we first looked into several well-known experiments in the academic field of psychological priming:

1. Forced Smiling
2. Heavy Clipboards
3. God Concepts

Forced Smiling

Studies have shown that smiling, even if forced, is associated with beneficial emotional changes and faster recovery from stress. This is especially so with Duchene smiles where muscles around the mouth and eyes are activated. This is also related to the facial feedback hypothesis which states that facial movement can influence emotional experience. In a psychophysiological sense, priming can occur on a kinesthetic level and affect mood states.

A “smile school” in Budapest was established to curb growing suicide rates in the 1930s.
A psychology researcher demonstrating in her Masters Thesis that forcing a Duchene smile by biting onto a pen sideways results in decreased stress levels. (Kraft T & Pressman S (2012 in press). Grin and bear it: The influence of manipulated positive facial expression on the stress response. Psychological Science.)

Heavy Clipboards

Researchers have conducted experiments to probe how physical attributes of incidental objects like weight, texture, and hardness can unconsciously influence judgments about unrelated events and situations. An infamous study concluded that resumes on heavy clipboards make job candidates seem better qualified as compared to lighter ones. This suggests an essential linkage between haptic touch and judgement / thought.


God Concepts

Implicit priming of religious and secular moral concepts have been observed to increase pro-social sharing. In fact, visual cues of being watched are sufficient in influencing behaviour. For example, placing a picture of watching eyes nearby an office pantry trebled the amount of money put in a donation box.

It seems that enhancing the sense of self-awareness by priming the notion of being watched results in altered behaviour that is skewed towards the postitive.


Proceed to next page: Priming Applications


Moving beyond laboratory trials, we turned to the field of consumer marketing and advertising to study various examples of priming aimed at influencing consumer behaviour. This is due to the fact that it is one of the most prominent fields that is rich in real-world application of psychological priming.

Music and Wine


Over a two-week period in a 1992 trial, French and German music was played on alternate days in a store selling French and German wines. French music led to French wines outselling German ones, whereas German music led to a preference for German wines. This result led to a theory that musical and auditory stimuli could prime a person to subconsciously prefer a certain type of product.

Shopping Malls and Scent


A growing number of businesses in Singapore are using scent marketing to not only improve their customer experience but also influence purchasing behaviours. Additionally, different scents create
different effects – from refreshing the mind, to evoking nostalgia, to calm and relaxation. In a study, subjects were even willing to pay $10 more for shoes in a scented sales area as compared to an unscented one.

Cars and the Sound of Power


Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty secrets, with automakers from BMW to Ford turning to sound-boosting in order to achieve the type of engine rumble that is associated with auto power and performance for decades. Enhancing engine sounds is a method of auditory priming to give the impression of a more satisfactory driving experience.



The Role of Design


In understanding the relationships between mental themes, schemata, and the priming effect from the above diagram, we see that there is a possibility for design to induce the Priming Effect by enhancing the accessibility of a schema under any specific circumstance.

Design Probe

  1. How might we use design as a tool to apply priming techniques in a classroom context, in order to achieve a more productive learning and effective teaching experience?
  2. How might we prime specific users of the classroom through design intervention in the material, environmental, or even ritualistic aspects?



As we started to delve into the realm of Education in search of priming opportunities, we firstly established a project collaboration with Canberra Primary School. The collaboration between us design researchers and the key school leaders started off with several sessions of deep design-related discussions and eventually mapping out possible outcomes that can be prototyped or even implemented in the school. Once we had our agendas sorted and our goals aligned, the collaboration took a more exploratory and experimental turn.

As design researchers, we first sought to get to understand the school a little deeper through on-site observations, studying Canberra Primary’s unique philosophy of ‘Play as Pedagogy’, and identifying instances where priming is applied in the school’s existing practices.

Our approach to multiple schools by sending out cold emails

What we learned from observations and conversations with school leadership

A Playful Uniform


In Canberra Primary School where ‘Play’ is central to its pedagogy, Primary 1 and 2 students are exempted from wearing formal school uniforms. Instead, their daily attire consists of a dry-fit collared shirt and shorts. The students are encouraged to be active and enthusiastic in their learning. This can be seen as a method to prime students to develop a certain positive attitude toward schooling and learning in their earlier years.

iPad Gifting Ceremony


As part of the FutureSchools@Singapore initiative, Canberra Primary School adopts a 1:1 scheme where every student is given an iPad that is heavily used for educational purposes. Every new batch of Canberran Primary 1 students will undergo an iPad gifting ceremony where they officially receive their iPads and parents are invited to attend. This interesting event has a deeper priming purpose of instilling a sense of responsibility and ownership in the students, so that they are reminded to use their iPads responsibly and for the right purposes.